Task Masters: This fall, when frazzled faculty at central London schools must find baby sitters, book holidays, or arrange household repairs, they can ask their new, taxpayer-funded "lifestyle managers" to take care of the task, the London Telegraph reports. The Westminster school district is offering its teachers the services of an errand-running company for free in an effort to boost morale, attract new staff, and reduce the need for substitutes. Tim Joiner, the head of education on the Westminster council, says the perk is urgently needed: "If office workers have an emergency at home, they can sit at their desks and sort it out over the phone. Teachers, however, are stuck in front of their classes. Those worries just add to what is already a stressful job."
Neutral Territory: Germany's top administrative court has upheld a decision banning a Muslim woman from wearing a head covering to work in her public school classroom, the Agence France-Presse reports. The federal court agreed with two previous verdicts in the case, first brought to trial in 1998; wearing a symbol of Islam, it declared, violates religious neutrality in state-run schools. The woman, a 30-year-old German citizen of Afghan origin, now teaches in a private Muslim school.
Independent Study: A primary school in affluent Singapore, where most households have maids, has attracted national attention by teaching its students skills such as ironing, bed making, and mopping in an effort to make them more independent, according to the Straits Times. In a 2002 survey, 40 percent of Singapore teenagers claimed they could not survive without a maid because they did not know how to take care of themselves. Some have condemned the program, arguing that chores take time away from studying. "Children who depend on maids too much may sometimes grow up lazy," says Habib Khondker, a sociologist at the National University of Singapore. "But they may be the ones who come up with brilliant ideas."
Tongue-Tied: Australian educators are outraged that their government has decided to stop funding a successful Asian-languages program as a cost-cutting measure, Melbourne's Age reports. In 1995, a previous administration introduced the 10-year, $163 million plan to strengthen the country's regional ties by teaching students Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, and Korean. The number of students studying these languages has almost tripled since then. While the withdrawal of federal funding will not end such programs, "the cuts mean that language excursions and camps, professional teacher training, and materials development will be scrapped," education union Federal President Denis Fitzgerald told Sydney's Daily Telegraph. "It is a national tragedy."
Vol. 14, Issue 1, Page 13Published in Print: August 1, 2002, as Dispatches